Sixth Sunday After Pentecost 2019, Year C - Planning Notes

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Living as Disciples Worship Series: WEEK 2
Sixth Sunday After Pentecost – July 21, 2019

 

Calendar Notes:

July
July 4            Independence Day (USA)

August
All Month    Back to School
August 6      Hiroshima/Nagasaki Memorial

 

Planning for this Series:

The Old Testament readings during this time are in Amos and Hosea. A common theme for these weeks, and indeed the two following from Isaiah, may be “When God Speaks Judgment.” The weekly themes may, “A Plumb Line for Leaders,” “Righteousness and Justice for People,” “When Pity Is Exhausted,” and “Judgment for Restoration.”

The Epistle readings are from Colossians. The series theme is “Our Life in Christ.” The weekly themes may be “How We Grow in Christ,” “Christ in Y’all, the Hope of Glory,” “The All-Sufficiency of Christ to Save Us,” “Out with the Old, On with the New.”

The Gospel readings from Luke continue to follow Jesus as he disciples his disciples. The series theme is “Loving God and Neighbor.” The weekly themes may be, “How to Be a Neighbor,” “Loving by Listening,” “Letting God Love You,” “The Love Never Stops Here.”

With a four-week story arc, the energy profile of the series is likely to be naturally either “ever upward” or “ever deeper.” The Epistle readings could easily be handled in an “ever-upward” direction. The Old Testament readings probably work best with an “ever-deeper” approach. The gospel readings could go either way.

Schools may be resuming within the next few weeks. Some start as early as the first or second week of August. See our Back to School resources for ideas and suggestions.

 

Commentary

You should be in week 2 of your new series now. Be sure to build on the momentum from last week’s series launch and keep it moving into next week.

Plan to read all the texts and to sing/pray the Psalm in worship so that the congregation hears and responds to each, but keep the focus of worship overall clearly on the stream and series you have chosen.

 

Old Testament Stream: Prophetic Ministry—Calling and Working for Justice, Righteousness, and Peace

When God Speaks Judgment

Week 2: Righteousness and Justice for People

Last week we heard God’s announcement that Israel’s religious and political leadership had been checked by God’s plumb line and found too “out of plumb” to be allowed to stand. They would all be destroyed.

This week’s reading, especially in verses 4-6, names the reasons for the judgment and impending destruction: abusing and destroying poor farm workers, short-shrifting the Sabbath to have more hours for sales, fraudulent weights and scales, putting the poor into indentured servitude, and selling what should have been left for gleaners to feed their families. No doubt, there had been isolated and maybe even widespread instances of all these injustices in the past. Now, it seems, all these were simply standard practice. 

What was supposed to happen? Everyone’s labor was to be fairly rewarded. The Sabbath was to be observed in its entirety by all, Israelite and alien in the land alike, for the rest and restoration of all. Weights and scales were to be accurate to ensure a fair price for all, especially the poor. Slavery and indentured servitude were forbidden at this point. And parts of everyone’s fields were to be left unharvested and the “sweepings” of the harvested part left on the ground, so the poor could gather food from them if they could not afford to buy it.

This is what people did for one another because they were God’s people, and their God required and cared for justice for all, especially the poor and the alien. This is the God who had rescued them from slavery in Egypt and had given them a land more than able to support everyone who lived there. Creating an economy that oppressed the poor and the alien at every turn and harmed everyone by reducing their time for rest, as this economy now regularly did, was an affront to the character of their God. God would not allow such an abomination to stand.

Amos was graphic about what God was about to do. Earthquakes would break the earth so the land would “flow” like the Nile (8:8). Festivals would become death traps. All singing would be dirges. People may try to repent, shaving their heads and putting on sackcloth, but in fact God would take away everything but sackcloth and destroy the hair on their heads before they could even shave it (8:10). And worse, there would be no prophets or voices of any kind to speak a word from God that might bring comfort or hope. They would suffer horribly, and God would be unrelentingly silent (8:11).

That is roughly what happened. Amos’s prophecies began in 762, about two years before an earthquake significant enough to be remembered as a time marker (760). The armies of Assyria destroyed the Northern Kingdom beginning in 721 BC. All who had any means, including all the religious and political leaders, were carried off and never heard from again. They weren’t simply “lost.” They were destroyed. Only the “poor of the land” survived, if you could call it survival when their buildings were burned, their roads destroyed and much of their land ruined. It was genocide and utter desolation. After 721, what had been the Northern Kingdom produced no “words from the Lord” that have survived.

At least, not until Jesus began his ministry in the most ruined heart of that territory, “Galilee of the Gentiles.”

Amos had declared this would happen because God “not forgetting, will never forget their actions,” the abomination that their economy, their whole way of life, had become. (See verse 7).

This was judgment visited on a whole nation because the primary ways the nation organized its economy were rotten to the core by God’s standards.

This is important to notice and note in our fundamentally individualistic cultures in the Global North and West, and to whatever degree that cultural individualism has infiltrated our theology and practices of relationship with God, neighbor, and other nations and peoples.

As you plan, remember Amos's point was simply to name the injustices that led God to announce judgment. This text does not provide an excuse to attack “other” people or peoples in worship today. It is rather an opportunity to help the congregation see how they may be participating in such economic practices offensive to God by their actions or inaction and begin to respond to God's call for economic justice and access for all, especially for “the poor of the land,” many of whom in Amos’s day would have been migrant farm workers and day laborers from other countries. There were no passports or border patrols as we now know them. Today in the U.S., these would be known as “undocumented aliens.”

IN YOUR PLANNING TEAM

It’s another hard text to get into. So help your folks do so.

Invite folks to bring in whatever the local summer fruit is where you are, whether they’re growing it in gardens or buying it in markets. Gather these into a basket that all can see and perhaps even smell as they arrive in the worship space. Consider sharing the fruit with children and others as this lesson is read. As you do, take a pause after verse 1. Give folks time to savor what they’re eating.

Then continue.

This prophecy evokes this rich, comforting image of a basket of summer fruit only immediately to betray it almost immediately through a wordplay that works in Hebrew and several other semitic languages (Arabic and Aramaic/Syriac, among them), but not in English. Summer fruit is qayitz (ka'-yitz) in Hebrew. The text gives us this word twice already—first in saying God showed it to Amos, and then Amos replying what he sees. Summer fruit. Summer fruit. But rather than continuing the image of summer fruit (ka’-yitz), God’s very next word rhymes with it—qets (kaits)—“end.” It’s powerfully unsettling in Hebrew, but impossible to capture in English. Don’t try during the reading. Explain it during the sermon.

Instead, during the reading consider adding a verse just prior to verse 3 that continues the same spirit and does work as a play on words in English, such as the following:

It was the morning. The Lord asked me, "What time of the day is it, Amos?"

"Morning."

"Mourning shall replace the songs of praise,
loud lamentation the thanksgivings of the people,
and the streets of your cities shall be open graves."

When it’s time to preach this week, keep in mind where this series started and where it’s going. And bring back to the congregation’s mind why you are pursuing this series—whatever reason you identified last week (whether to go deeper into a core narrative of the whole Bible, or to help you identify what God is judging where you are, or some other reason).

Then remind folks that last week you heard from Amos that inexorable judgment was coming on leaders and institutions. And this week we hear why such judgment was also going to come to the whole people.

Everything we see in Jesus tells us God still rejects the kinds of practices identified in verses 4-6. Are any of them part of “standard practice” in your congregation, community, or local or regional or national economy? If so, simply declare with the prophet that these stand under God’s judgment and can lead to the destruction of whole nations, not just those they currently target most (the poor — scales and gleaning), the outsider/alien (most likely to become enslaved), and the average worker (scales and shorting Sabbath).

To prepare for this, document in and through your worship planning team:

  1. Places around you where rest becomes either limited or impossible because of the demands of the economy.
  2. Places where there are still unfair scales.
  3. Places and ways where the poor and their children are being sold for shoes or clothing or iPads, or locked into actual or virtual slavery.
  4. Places where the poor are regularly given access to substantially lower quality goods and services or actively prevented from obtaining the basic necessities of life.

Consider using images of these places and abuses as you read verses 3-6.

But also consider more. Who are the people in your congregation or community, or people your folks know or know of, who have taken on the prophetic, baptismal task of resisting such evils? Send planning team members to talk with them and learn their stories. What led them to resist? How did they resist? What happened because they resisted? How did they find God at work in and around them when they resisted? What did they learn and wish to convey to others?

Then use what you gather to highlight what people in your congregation and community are doing to resist these forms of evil, injustice, and oppression as they present themselves.

Conclude the sermon with one or more concrete invitations to join the resistance and those who are resisting.

Keep those most targeted by such forms of oppression and those who persist in oppressing them by their action or inaction front and center in your prayers today.

Celebrate Holy Communion as a means to receive the freedom and power Christ gives you to resist.

And send folks forth in the power of the Spirit to continue the resistance in their daily lives.

 

Epistle Stream: Mission in the World, but not of It

Our Life in Christ

Week 2: Christ in Y’all, the Hope of Glory

“Our Life in Christ” may sound like a boring title for a boring series. Your launch last week and the testimonies that may be coming out this week as people live into the flow Paul describes may already have helped dispel any idea that this series, much less life in Christ itself, is boring!

This week’s reading will do that even more.

Yes, we live our lives in a day to day world, full of all kinds of routines. But our life in is Christ now. And because we are incorporated into Christ, we are part of and in connection with a Love, Power, and Being that can only blow our minds as we consider it.

That’s what Paul was telling a congregation he never met in a backwater imperial city in what is now Turkey the middle of the first century.

And it’s what we celebrate today in this second part of our four-part series in his letter to them long ago.

It’s all about “Christ in y’all, the hope of glory” (verse 27).

As we live into the flow of hearing and doing the will of God, and bearing fruit as a result, we get to know God in Christ, who is in us (plural), better and better.

And as we come to know Christ better and better, we come to be able to confess everything Paul says about him in verses 15-20 more and more fully (NRSV).

He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation;
 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created,
                  things visible and invisible,          
                  whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—
all things have been created through him and for him.

He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
He is the head of the body, the church;
he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
so that he might come to have first place in everything.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things,
                  whether on earth or in heaven,
by making peace through the blood of his cross.

This Jesus, whom we are coming to know more and more as we hear and respond faithfully to God’s will, is all that! 

As we come to know him more and more, it becomes no wonder that we can increase in endurance and generosity of spirit (1:11), and no wonder that in the face of sufferings, we can still, like Paul, rejoice (1:24).

Truly, Christ in us all, or Christ in y’all, is the hope of glory (verse 27), and the hope of glory is revealed more and more as we continue to mature fully into Christ (verse 28).

The pronouns are plural, and that matters. Paul could have said, “Christ in each one of you.” He did not. He said, “Christ in you (plural).” So, y’all, or even “all y’all” (or, for those in Western Pennsylvania, “yins” or “yinses”).

This hope of glory becomes real for us, plural, as we, plural, bear witness to one another and to our neighbors of Christ moving, leading, and drawing us, individually and collectively, into deeper knowledge of him.

 

IN YOUR PLANNING TEAM

Keep building!

There’s ample material in this week’s text to do just that.

And, if you and your team will ask and listen, you’ll find ample material in your congregation as well.

Some of it you may be able to draw from the stories you’ve shared over the weeks you’ve been preparing this service in your team. Some of it, too, you may draw from what you’ve heard and seen in the groups and via social media you asked to talk about what happens as they enter the flow Paul describes during this past week.

But for this week, you may draw even more in your discussions in your team about people in your congregation who are already living witnesses that Christ is “all that” as described in verses 15-20 and identify the visible signs of Christ being just like this where you are.

But don’t stop with the happy things. Keep asking folks on your team, and through your team in your congregation and community, to share stories of how suffering then came to play into their own growth in and witness to Christ.

Let the sermon today unpack verses 15-20 as reasons your congregation can come to know “Christ in y’all, the hope of glory,” using these stories as living witnesses, not just illustrations.

Consider using verses 15-20 as a confession of faith after the sermon (see UMH 888).

Through the coming week, encourage folks to keep sharing these kinds of stories on social media or in small groups.

And both know and trust that these will help them prepare for next week’s focus, “The All Sufficiency of Christ to Save Us.”

 

Gospel Stream: Learning from the Master

Loving God and Neighbor

Week 2: Loving by Listening

In Luke we are offered the stark contrast between Mary and Martha. Mary stops and listens; Martha stays busy.

Western, and increasingly, Eastern capitalist-driven cultures are all about Martha, to be sure. Productivity, getting things done, being on the move and available 24/7, the “never sleeps” economy— this is how you “get ahead in the world,” right?

At least, it’s what many of our cultures, corporations, and political cultures seem to reward and call for more of, all the time.

If you followed the suggestion to encourage folks to write in about how they are “doing” mercy “with” others, perhaps you’ve encouraged the Martha side a bit as well.

Or have you?

The core problem Jesus identifies with Martha in this story is not that she is busy. It is that she is in an uproar (the verb here, thorubazein, comes from the noun, thorubos, which refers to the noise of a stirred-up crowd). She’s overwhelmed, distracted from what matters, and lashing out at everyone else.

And not just her sister.

Even her guest.

Even if Martha was overwhelmed with trying to serve her guest, a basic and expected act of hospitality, here she has blown it.

She tries to use her guest to do what she, in her uproar, is convinced must be done, right now.

The one thing needful right now, Jesus says, is to listen, as Mary had chosen to do.

If you want to serve your guest, or anyone else, you need to listen first. Really listen. Do nothing else. Let go all other distractions. Turn off the livestream in your head that diagnoses what others need. Just listen.

To love your neighbor as yourself, and to love God—both require this, first of all.

Turn off the uproar. Stop. Listen.

We don’t know what Martha did next.

But we do know what Luke reports Jesus did next.

He was praying. (Luke 11:1).

There is goodness in work of all kinds. This story nowhere tells us to stop working, or only to meditate all the time, or to disengage from the duties we have toward one another. It tells us not to let ourselves become overwhelmed. It tells us instead to focus on what matters most.

And to do that, first we must listen.

We love and learn to love better by listening to God, neighbor, and guest—all whom we serve and with whom we seek to serve.

IN YOUR PLANNING TEAM

Start your planning team meeting with a reflection on the image at the top of these helps. Go to the original website, click on the image, then click to enlarge it so you and your team can see the details. This is an altar-table at a Lutheran church in Denmark. In case you are wondering, the words surrounding the image are the Words of Institution (bread on the left, cup on the right) and the Lord’s Prayer (below). To the left just below, it says “In the year 1600, September 6, by Hans Rosenberg.” To the right “This altar-table set, IHS.” (IHS is both the first three letters of the name of Jesus in Greek, and the initials of Jesus, Savior of Humankind in Latin. The idea here is this is given to the honor or glory of Christ).

The image in the middle is from today’s story.

Martha is on the left, standing, holding a jug (for wine?) in her right hand and a plate of bread on her left. Mary is sitting on a bench on the right, and slightly in the foreground, looking at Jesus. Jesus is seated in the middle, with his head and gaze turned toward Martha. Martha’s body is turned toward both Jesus and Mary, but her gaze appears to be on Jesus.

Ask members of the planning team to interpret the facial expressions and body postures of the characters in this painting. What do we learn about each of them based on how they are portrayed here?

Now take it one step deeper. Martha holds the bread and wine. The bread in her left hand corresponds with the words about the bread in the left panel. The wine in her right corresponds with the words about the wine on the right panel. What do you and your team members make of this?

What you have just engaged in might be called an act of “visual listening.” Like Mary in the biblical story and in this altarpiece, you have paid close, maybe even rapt attention to this painting, seeking to understand it and its place in the larger altar-table set and so in that church. To do this, you had to let go of a lot of the noise in your heads, get past distractions, and simply focus. You were guided by questions that helped you begin to make sense of what you were seeing, and you brought other questions as well. Your aim was not to control or use this painting toward some other end, but to understand it on its own terms as much as possible.

If this exercise goes well for your team, consider how you might replicate it as the core of the sermon/message time in worship. In settings larger than 150, you may want to encourage folks to talk among themselves in smaller groups to share what they are seeing about each of the figures and their interaction as portrayed here. In those larger settings, to model listening across the whole church, be sure to ask the small groups to have one person prepared to report out the gist of what was shared in the group.

As a response to the Word, invite persons to a time of listening or centering prayer.

From there, move into prayers for the church and the world, invitation to the Lord’s Table, confession, pardon, peace, offering (use music that leads the congregation in a time of meditative thanksgiving), and the Great Thanksgiving. If you use the “Appalachian Lord’s Supper” commended for this series, be sure to give extra time for people to name and be heard where they (or their people) are from as a way of listening to one another and offering all of who we are to God.

As people are sent forth, invite them then and throughout the week to share testimonies of what they’ve learned about loving God and neighbor by listening to God and others this week. This will also be a good lead-in to next week’s focus, “Letting God Love You.”